Worried about a friend’s cannabis use? New toolkit can now measure how much they are using

Leading ACU neuroscientist Valentina Lorenzetti was one of 25 international expert researchers to develop a new global toolkit that can measure cannabis use.

In a new paper, published in the journal Addiction, the group outline the framework for the new International Cannabis Toolkit (iCannToolkit) which will be able to measure cannabis use globally.

Dr Lorenzetti, the deputy director of ACU’s Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre, said the toolkit was an important step to provide international consensus about how to measure cannabis use.

“We developed a simple tool so that anyone from any discipline - clinicians, public health experts, researchers, medical professionals, members of the public - and any part of the world, can measure cannabis use levels,” Dr Lorenzetti said.

“For people who are worried about a friend’s cannabis use, this toolkit can also be useful to gather information about how much they are using.”

“We believe it will have important implications about how cannabis use is measured, and as a result we would be able to readily integrate all evidence on cannabis use and related risks and benefits.”

Experts say the lack of an agreed international minimum approach to measuring cannabis use had hindered understanding of the effect on people’s mental and physical health.

The paper outlines a three-layered hierarchical framework – universal measures to administer in all settings, detailed self-report and biological measures to reflect different costs and ease of implementation.

As cannabis becomes more available and social use increases, Dr Lorenzetti said more research on the drug’s effects was needed to understand the impact of acute and long-term exposure, prenatal and adolescent use on brain development, cognition, and education.

“Consistent use of the proposed framework across research, public health, clinical practice and medical settings would facilitate harmonisation of international evidence on cannabis consumption, related harms and approaches to their mitigation,” she said.

Earlier this year, Dr Lorenzetti’s work with Dr Tom Freeman on cannabis led the top US federal health agency to announce a new standard dose of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the main chemical responsible for the psychotropic and addictive properties of cannabis.

The lack of a standard unit of THC exposure had made it difficult to measure cannabis intake and compare its effects across studies.

The new standard dose will be used by researchers to enable more accurate and useful research into the effects of cannabis use.

Cannabis contains more than 500 chemicals, and more than 100 cannabinoids. THC is the main cannabinoid responsible for the “high” that users seek, as well as some of the medicinal effects demonstrated in clinical trials.

The NIDA has said the standard unit is simply a unit of measure to improve cannabis research - not a limit or a recommendation for consumption that would apply to consumers or to dispensaries. 

Similar standard measures have also been applied to other substances - such as alcohol being defined by a standard drink. Researchers also use morphine milligram equivalents to compare effects of opioids that have widely varying potencies.

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